Matt Fowler (Elbow, Abhors0n, 1st Gentleman, Friar Peter) talks about his first experience with ensemble directing.

1) How do you typically go about preparing a Shakespearean character?

I work well with an outward-in approach to Shakespeare.  How does my voice initially react to the script?  How do I feel my body wanting to move to compliment my voice?  I read each line 10 times, trying 10 different things for each one and then pick my favorite line read from each one.  Then I read each line another ten times after I sleep and wake up again to solidify them in my memory.  Is there something physical I want to try like a new walk or a new gesture? Be fearless!  Quite honestly, the thing that has worked best for me is to start with a feeling; How do you want the audience to feel and how should you accomplish that?  Ultimately when audience members forget an actor’s lines, name, or even what he or she looks like, they will remember the feelings the actor gave them for decades.  I approach every role with a specific feeling that I want to share with the audience.  Surprised?  Amused?  Excited?  Anxious?  Compassionate?  There are a ton of options out there, and the way to share this feeling is not always apparent, but a solid goal in mind certainly helps me; as I’ve learned before, exhaust the ordinary to get to the extraordinary.  The things that are most important at the end of the day are that I commit to a role 100% and that I take pride in a performance.

2) What do you find to be the most helpful part of PCSC’s standard rehearsal process?

This is my first experience with an ensemble directed show, and it is not quite how I expected it to be.  The thing I learned most heavily in Measure for Measure is to become self-validated in my work instead of relying on the validation of others.  I thought that an ensemble directed production would allow me to run wild and free With any impulse I have for a character, but I quickly discovered just how little confidence I have within my own inhibitions and fears.  After listening to Rocky’s theme and being in a fighting montage, I got into the habit of challenging myself to discover more about my characters with restless disatistifatcion;  I could pat myself on the back when performances came around.  Now I am proud of the work I’ve done and I have learned a lot from this experience.

3) What do you do for fun outside of theatre?

I enjoy animating, backpacking, and going on epic adventures with this production’s stage manager, Erin Feiner.

4) What do you want to be your day job?

My dream is to become a motivational speaker.  I want to speak to the young people of the world about self-esteem and body image issues.  I think I’m just the right person to spread positivity and inspiration into the world.

5) What theatre plans do you have in the next couple months?

I will be appearing in Grand Valley State University’s Much ado About Nothing as Don John and Verges in the fall and I will be directing Beyond Therapy by Christopher Durang right after.

Sean Kelly (Angelo) shares his thoughts on being the bad guy.

Angelo is the kind of guy who tells the management that you’re saving seats in a movie theater, but then it turns out he’s doing the same thing.

Structurally, Angelo is certainly the villain, even described as an “arch” villain by Isabella  but he only admits the fact in a couple moments. In his own words “when once our grace we have forgot/nothing goes right” and Angelo literally thinks he has only deviated once from an otherwise angelic life. Looking at Angelo this way is very useful because it opens up a twisted lightness to play instead of only mustache twirling villainy.

But how redeemable is Angelo? How justifiable are his feelings and actions? And, key to playing a character, how much is Angelo similar to you or me? There’s a specific line at the end of the show where Angelo claims that the primary reason he broke off his engagement to the unlucky Mariana wasn’t financial but “for that her reputation was disvalued in levity.” Now, it’s unclear at this point whether Angelo is being honest or trying to muddy Mariana’s reputation but if he is telling the truth then Angelo is somewhat tragic. His sexual hypocrisy and prudish persecutions fixate on virtue and target the lusty unmarried because he carries the pain of his broken engagement

My key to playing Angelo is to limit the time I consider him a villain to as few lines as possible, and I try to do so because Angelo does the same, but it is important to remember that Angelo is unquestionably a villain. He sexually assaults a nun in most hypocritical fashion. He tries to then put her brother death. He lies. He’s deceitful. However, his mask of civility is developed and studied, to the point where he believes in his own saintliness.

So, when you see the play look for things in Angelo that you feel are normal. His story has a lot to empathize with. Hopefully, doing so will make those moments when Angelo makes a choice you or I would not all the more impactful.

Some insights into her acting process from Sarah Tryon (Juliet, Escalus).

1) When creating a Shakespeare character, do you start from the “outside” (voice and physicality) or the “inside” (relationships and motivations)? Why?

When I first get my hands on a script, I like to decode the text and find out who my character is, who they talk to, how they feel about who they talk to, how they are influenced by events, and how they fit into the play itself. However, with the role of Escalus, I knew that I would have to do a lot of vocal work to conceal my feminine voice. And I would also need to decide how old I want him to be so that it can inform my physicality.

2) Is there anything about Shakespeare’s language you find especially helpful in preparing for a role? Anything that is always challenging?

Shakespeare really gives his actors a lot. I find scansion is really the best tool for me. If my character is speaking in verse it could be because of he or her status or there is heightened emotion, etc.

3) How do you prepare differently for an ensemble directed production versus a production with a director?

For an ensemble show, I more often decide on something I want to try in a scene before rehearsal, whereas with a director, I’m more likely to try what they want me to try.

4) What is your favorite “Original Practice” (audience contact, cross-gendered casting, live music and sound, etc.) and what exactly do you love about it?

Audience contact because plays are for the audience so why ignore them?

5) What is your dream Shakespearean role?

I’d like to play Viola again, but I would love to play Beatrice, Ophelia, Cassius, Feste, and pretty much every other character …

Stephen Wright (Claudio/Barnadine/Justice/Boy) answers our first round of acting questions about the rehearsal process for Measure for Measure.

1) How do you typically go about preparing a Shakesperean character?

The first thing that I do is read the play, then watch a film adaptation or two and read a summary (to make sure I’ve got the story). Then I begin memorizing lines. If I’m unsure about the meaning of a line or a word I look it up on Dictionary.com. Then I start asking myself questions, questions like, “Who is this person?” “What are his relationships to the other characters?” “What kind of psychological center is this character; head, heart, pelvic, stomach?” “What kind of animal is this character most like?”

One I’ve asked myself a number of these questions I like to get what I am doing on its feet and run it with others. I think that my characters are most fully explored when I’m given the freedom to engage with the other actor and let the character evolve, piece by piece. Getting to this point where I can engage requires a lot of concentration, so honing my concentration is part of this process. “Finding the game”, finding the game that characters play with each other in every scene helps me to build both this concentration and my character.

Along the way I keep asking questions but, essentially, I like to get my character on its feet and play around with the scene.

2) What do you find to be the most helpful part of PCSC’s standard rehearsal process?

I find the suggestions of my fellow actors to be the most helpful part of the rehearsal process. For instance, one actor suggested that I deliver a certain section of text to the audience rather than just to another actor in the scene. This unlocked the whole scene for me and gave me deep insight into my character. This simple suggestion gave me a little spark from which I’ve begun to construct my character.

3) What do you like to do for fun outside of theatre?

Outside of theater I mostly hang out with my girlfriend and watch television. I watch way too much Fringe (which is fantastic) and Star Trek, but enjoy other shows too. I also play guitar, am part of several organizations on Aquinas College’s campus, write plays and poetry, and volunteer at American Model United Nations (among other things).

4) What is your day job? What do you want to be your day job?

I recently gained employment at The Gluten Free Bar, a company that makes gluten free protein bars. In a shift, with others, I’ll help to mix the bars, roll them out in a pan, cut them, store them and package the previous day’s bars. I’ll also attend to general kitchen duties. I really like this job and my co-workers. It’s one of the better one’s I’ve had.

My career plans are a bit sporadic. I want to do many different things and often daydream about them. I know that I want to continue writing plays and that I would like to see them produced. After I graduate from Aquinas College I want to teach abroad, probably in Russia or Taiwan. Someday, even if it is thirty years from now, I’d like to teach Philosophy or another subject at the college level. But beside these things it’s all quite up in the air because I have a lot of different career interests.

5) What theater plans do you have over the next couple months?
Over the next couple months I plan to write several plays. Before summer’s end it’s my goal to finish writing first drafts of two ten full length plays, two one acts and a few ten minute plays. I am also considering auditioning for more Pigeon Creek shows!

Our executive director, Katherine Mayberry, discusses Shakespearean Theater and reconstructed playhouses.

Brie Roper, Scott Wright and Sean Kelly rehearsing in costume

This weekend, Pigeon Creek is performing for the second time at the Rose Playhouse at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp.  Blue Lake built the Rose in 2010, primarily for the use of the middle school and high school students who come to camp every summer.  An article about the building of the Rose can be found here.  To have this building in West Michigan is remarkable, and our actors count themselves incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to perform on this stage.

Reconstructions of Early Modern English Playhouses are extremely rare.  The most famous of the currently existing reconstructions is Shakespeare’s Globe in London.  There are also reconstructed Globes in Rome, Tokyo, and Dusseldorf, Germany.  The American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia, has a reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Blackfriars, the indoor playhouse in which Shakespeare’s acting company performed in the early 1600s.  Shakespeare’s Globe is currently working on building their own reconstruction of an indoor playhouse.  These are playhouses which by and large seek to recreate the performance conditions of Shakespeare’s lifetime, making concessions to modern safety standards but not incorporating modern theatre technology.  Beyond these, there are a number of theatres in the world whose architecture is inspired by Early Modern playhouse architecture, but which also incorporate significant modern theatre technology, such as advanced theatrical lighting systems and the ability to change sets rather than have one unchanging backdrop which is a permanent part of the theatre architecture.  Theatres such as the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre at Navy Pier, or the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre in Stratford, England, belong to this second category.

Pigeon Creek is a company which since its founding has worked within the constraints of Early Modern performance conditions.  A list of some of those conditions is available here .  Among Shakespearean theatres, this approach to performing the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries is often called “original practices” or “original staging practices.”  Typically, Pigeon Creek is working with the original staging practices common to the touring companies of Shakespeare’s time period, who performed in places like innyards and the great halls of noble families’ houses.  When we take a production on tour, we have to quickly adapt to new spaces, and make our performance fit the space.  We always make it a priority in any space to find ways for our actors to do the direct audience contact that is so central to the philosophy of performance within which Shakespeare was writing.  In a playhouse like the Rose, we find that the theatre’s architecture is already designed to encourage this kind of interplay between actor and audience.  The stage thrusts out into the audience’s space, so that the actors are surrounded by audience members rather than being separated from them.  While the Rose is relatively large (though not as large as London’s Globe), each individual audience face is clearly visible from the stage, and an actor feels able to converse with anyone in the playhouse.

Just to brag a bit, and to demonstrate what a rare and wonderful thing this playhouse is, I like to point out that the actors whose work focuses on doing Shakespeare in this particular way, and who get to work on these kinds of reconstructed stages, is extremely small.  Our audiences who come to Twelfth Night this weekend will see, to my knowledge, the only four actors in the world who have worked on the stages at Shakespeare’s Globe, the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse, and the Rose at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp.  Even if we only focus on two out of those three playhouses, the Blackfriars and the Rose, the group of actors who have worked on both stages rises to just seven, and again, that group will be at the Rose this weekend.

Sarah Tryon as Maria, Sean Kelly as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Scott Wright as Sir Toby Belch

This Saturday, May 25, The Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company returns to the Rose Theater at Blue Lake with our production of Twelfth Night.

The Rose is patterned after Shakespeare’s Globe in London, and is one of only a handful of authentic reconstructed Elizabethan playhouses in the world. For an original practices Shakespeare company like Pigeon Creek, performing in one of these spaces always feels like coming home. We work hard to recreate Shakespearean performance practices in spaces that were not originally designed for them, and adapting ours shows to multiple venues is one of the fun, but challenging things about being a touring company. The chance to perform Shakespeare in a space that so accurately reflects the spaces for which he was writing is a rare and wonderful experience.

Pigeon Creek’s Twelfth Night cast features several actors with a history of working in reconstructed Renaissance playhouses, and several for whom this will be a new experience. Our cast also includes three of the four actors in the world who have worked onstage at the Globe in London, the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, VA and now the Rose in Blue Lake.

The chance to see a performance like this in a space like this doesn’t come along often. We are thrilled to be able to share it with you!

To reserve tickets, visit www.bluelake.org/radio

Kat Hermes is a member of Pigeon Creek’s Board of Directors and an actor in the Repertory Company. She recently appeared in Macbeth (Malcolm/Fleance) and The Importance of Being Earnest (Miss Prism) and will be performing in Twelfth Night (Viola) at the end May and Measure for Measure (Isabel) this summer.

Hello, blog readers!

Here at Pigeon Creek’s Acting Blog, we try to give you an ongoing, behind-the-scenes look into our rehearsal and performance process for each of our four yearly “main stage” productions. We just wrapped up Macbeth last week, and pretty soon, you’ll be reading all about Measure for Measure, which we start rehearsing tonight (!) and which opens June 20th at Dog Story Theater.

In addition to our four main stage productions, each year Pigeon Creek produces several special projects. These include our “Bard on the Run” experiments with short rehearsal periods (usually 2-3 days per show), staged readings, command performances of scenes, school workshops and, for the first time this February, entries in the Lake Effect Fringe Festival.

This month, we have two such projects: one was a revival of our LEFF entry, a production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest using Shakespearean staging conventions that we performed just this Friday at the Red Barn Playhouse in Saugatuck, and the second is a revival of our Bard on the Run production of Twelfth Night, which we will perform at The Rose in Blue Lake on May 25th.

Remounting productions we’ve already done is always an interesting experience. Often we’ve had weeks or months between performances, usually we’ve rehearsed or performed an entirely different production in between. Sometimes there are members of the original cast who are unavailable and have to be replaced. This means that we can never quite just pick up the production where we left off, and a revival production often feels entirely different from the original.

Some things don’t change; obviously the words are still the same (though digging them back out of the recesses of memory can be surprisingly difficult), and… well, and that’s basically it. Sometimes we use the same props and costumes (we did for Earnest), but just as often we don’t. Our costumes for Twelfth Night were mid-20th century, but The Rose is a replica Elizabethan playhouse, so when we perform there we perform in Renaissance costumes, which causes a major difference in logistics (quick changes, etc. have to be replotted), in the way we as actors are able to move, and in the look and feel of the production both from the inside and out.

When remounting plays we’ve already performed, we often spend as much time re-adjusting our staging to fit a new space as we did staging it the first time. Both Twelfth Night and Earnest were originally performed at Dog Story Theater, a black box which we configure as a thrust, which is our “default” staging configuration, but revival productions are can be performed in very different spaces.

Performing Earnest in a proscenium theater like the Red Barn required re-thinking everything from how we set our furniture to what angle Algernon and Cecily’s first kiss should take place on. Since PCSC typically performs with minimal set, using folding chairs or acting blocks when actors need to sit, we found the stationary couch and chair we used in Earnest presented challenges on a proscenium stage that I (at least) haven’t though about negotiating since college. As obvious as it seems in hindsight, we had to adjust to the fact that when someone is seated on a couch, they can’t subtly move to “counter” another actor who steps in front of them the way a standing actor could. With the audience only in front of us, rather than on all three sides, a standing actor stepping in front of someone seated could cut them off from the entire audience.

The Rose will present those of us in Twelfth Night with an entirely different set of challenges. PCSC has only worked in that space once before (for last summer’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and the Twelfth Night cast has several members who have never performed there. Because of the two large pillars that support the roof above the stage, The Rose has some sight-line issues that are unique amongst our usual venues. And because it is a replica Elizabethan playhouse, its design based on Shakespeare’s Globe in London, it provides a chance for us to perform not only with our usual Early Modern staging conventions (universal lighting, audience contact, etc) but to work with a version of the actual architecture for which the play was originally written. Our challenge there is not just to adjust to fit the space, but to make sure we are taking full advantage of the opportunities it provides.

Personally, I love revisiting shows I’ve already performed and bringing them back to life. I think we learn something from every production we do, and with two productions between me and our original BoTR Twelfth Night, there’s a lot that I’ve discovered that I’m interested to apply to Viola. There are also some scenes that I can’t wait to play again just because of how much fun they were the first time!

Rep. Company member Janna Rosenkranz (Ross, Hecate) talks about adapting our production of Macbeth to multiple venues.

I’ve been asked to write this blog entry on how an actor adjusts to multiple spaces. PCSC is the first touring company I’ve worked with, and although it may have taken a tour or two, I’ve gotten used to acting in multiple spaces. It isn’t easy, but once you prepare yourself, it’s more than manageable. There are some spaces you may like more than others, but they are all usable and you never know when a new space might help you discover something about your character or the play.

The first thing I do as an actor is create a document called My (with your name) Play (a plot, which is similar to a lighting, sound, or costume plot) with character names (if you are doubling or tripling) entrances and exits, cue lines, and any special notes you may want to remember.

For instance my document for Macbeth looks like this:

Janna’s Play


I ii: Ross – (costume and/or prop notes)
Cue: Duncan: They smack of honour both. Go get him the surgeons
EDL (enter down left)/ EDR
Iiii: Ross (costume and/prop notes)
Cue: Banquo: To the selfsame tune and words? ENTER Who goes here?
EDR/EUL
Etc.
INTERMISSION
Song:
Song:
III v: Hecate
Cue: THUNDER
EC/EUL
IV i: Hecate
Cue: 2nd Witch Then the charm is firm and good
EC/EUL
CHANGE INTO ROSS
IV ii: Ross
Cue: Macbeth: Come, bring me where they are

Not every actor needs or wants their play mapped out like this, and those who do might do it in a different format. This method works for me, although I’d color code it because I’m a bit anal about this stuff.

When PCSC loads into a new space we always are able to walk our play at some point, so if there isn’t a down left entrance/exit space we are able to adjust. We do this by talking to our scene partners and figuring out where our entrances and exits would make most sense artistically and practically. From rehearsal we know where the actors in the scene before us make their exits and if they are carrying any props and/or set pieces. This way we won’t get in anybody’s way. Since we help each other with things like props, set pieces, quick changes, sound cues, and curtain pages, we have to take these things into consideration as well.

Every space has different sound, lighting and space issues. If we know a space is very echo prone or absorbs sound we know we have to sharpen our pronunciation and hit our consonants particularly well or simply project our voices more. If there is no dressing room, and we are behind the curtain we stay extra silent backstage. If a space has day light coming in we have to take things like see through curtains into consideration. If a space has a low ceiling or if the acting space is very close to the audience we might have to change some blocking or re-choreograph some stage combat.

Our load in is also effected by a change of space. Parking close enough to unload costumes, curtains, props, and set pieces might be an issue. The locations for costumes may be a smaller space than we are used to and might have only a few outlets for the iron and steamer. We might have to set up our curtains differently because of the size or set up of the space. We often have to help set chairs for the audience and if there is a beam in the way we have to figure out how to move the chairs to fit the situation.

Sometimes there seem to be a million things we have to consider and perhaps alter in every new space, and it can be very daunting. As we know what spaces we will be in ahead of time, we are already aware of the stumbling blocks in spaces. If it is a space new to the company, the executive director or a member of the board will check it out first. The key, as with many new things, is professionalism, preparation, and flexibility. I’m always impressed when I tour with PCSC as they seem to have the knack for all three.

Rep Company member Scott Wright (Macduff, Soldier) answers our second round of Acting Questions.

1) When creating a Shakespeare character, do you start from the “outside” (voice and physicality) or the “inside” (relationships and motivations)? Why?

Well – both, I think… it depends a lot on the character though. As I started thinking about how to answer this question I began to reflect back on roles that I’ve done and thought about whether I’d favored one technique or the other. It seems to me that some characters have a very clear physicality that’s written right into the text – Caliban for instance, or King Richard III, or Jack Falstaff – and I think it can only be helpful to start right off with that. When doubled into a minor role that has little or no textual clues to work with I find that starting off with a distinct physical or vocal characteristic allows me to give those characters an individuality that their words or relation to the scene might not otherwise have.

But there are also characters whose attitudes and feelings about their situation or the characters around them are what powers their actions in the story. Creating those characters’ inner life is the more important aspect – more important than what they look like or how they walk. I could create a Claudius with a speech impediment or a Bottom with a particular physicality but those things don’t really seem important to the portrayal or to the story.
The “recipe” or ratio of inner to outer would seem to depend too, upon whether the character is dramatic or comedic. The comedic roles are so often more physical and it’s easy to start off with voice and “character.”

The question of “which comes first” is actually a little circular to me. I’ve come to realize that on one hand our actions are manifestations of our thoughts and emotions. Tears flow or we lash out because of strong emotions. We move to fulfill a want or need in response to thoughts. But on the other hand, many of our thoughts and emotions are triggered by feedback or physical responses in our bodies.
Building the illusion of great sorrow or anger or completely un-self-conscious enthusiasm on stage is a subtle blend of the physical and mental/emotional. We spend a good deal of time discovering and refining that blend in rehearsal by experimenting with the emotions, our own memories & experiences, and creating the situation physically.

2) Is there anything about Shakespeare’s language you find especially helpful in preparing for a role? Anything that is always challenging?

I find the verse meter to be the single most helpful thing – not only for memorization (the words sort of fit together only one way…) but sometimes the meter actually helps you find the right emphasis for certain words. One of the things that’s always challenging is sorting out exactly what’s happening in a scene… Some scenes of course are much written & talked about and what’s happening is well known. In some other scenes of course what’s happening is clear enough, but there are many scenes that are much less clear-cut and finding the action or energy that brings the words to life is always tough for me.

3) How do you prepare differently for an ensemble directed production versus a production with a director?

I’m a bit of a history buff so in an ensemble-directed atmosphere I might do a little bit of extra research into other people’s characters (depending on the piece – history plays offer loads of opportunity for that kind of thing… You still have to be tactful – not everyone appreciates that kind of “help.”) or I’ll look into other sources for ideas I can bring to rehearsal that we can try out and possibly integrate into our show. With a director you rely a lot more on the fact that the research and the decisions about how the show will look and feel have been thought out before hand. Otherwise the preparation is very much the same – reading the play, looking into dictionaries, resource texts, and (at least for me) maybe seeing a performance or two of the play, if possible, to get an idea of what other people have been doing with the material.

4) What is your favorite “Original Practice” (audience contact, cross-gendered casting, live music and sound, etc.) and what exactly do you love about it?

I would probably have to say that cross-gender casting, live music & etc., and direct audience contact get equal share here. Direct audience contact was quite difficult for me to get used to when I first tried it. I feared that looking into someone’s eyes would distract me from my lines and I’d screw up. But it quickly became clear that, while some will look down or away when you meet their eyes, most audience members seem to be even further drawn into the performance. As it was pointed out to me during rehearsals recently, “Instead of seeing you experience it, they experience it with you.”

Naturally, I really enjoy performing the music in our shows. It’s almost as much fun as the play itself.
Cross-gender casting is something that I’ve tried for myself only very recently. My experience with it has mostly been with women cast as men – and we have a ton of women in the company who are really good at it – but men playing women is a little rare. My personal experience with it was really challenging and fun – so much so that it catapulted cross-gender casting into this list and I look forward to more such opportunities.

5) What is your dream Shakespearean role?

It would be hard to limit myself to one dream role…
I’d always wanted to play Falstaff and Sir Toby Belch…; Bottom; King Claudius. All of which I’ve had the privilege to play with PCSC.
I’d really like to play Macbeth one day, and King Richard III, and Iago, and Shylock…
When I’m older I hope to have an opportunity to play Titus, and Prospero, and Lear…
Then there are the roles that I’d really love to do but don’t expect to ever be cast in them : Petruchio, Benedick, Berowne, Mercutio, King Henry V, Hamlet…
They’re all dream roles.
But probably the role that stands out as the one I most hope to one day have a shot at is Falstaff in the Henry IV plays.

Steven Schwall (Duncan, Porter, Murderer, Caithness) is not only an actor in Macbeth, he’s also the Fight Director. Here are his thoughts on choreography for this production.

Hi, I’m Steven Schwall and I am designing the violence for Pigeon Creek Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This production has a number of parameters which take me outside the “traditional” methods of fight choreography. I’m here to share my experiences with you.

To start with, Pigeon Creek is an original practices company. This poses several conditions which force the fight choreographer to adapt. Thrust staging (or full round for that matter) always complicates things, because it is harder to stage the violence so that it looks real without being real. Universal lighting makes it even more difficult to accomplish. So there is a lot of viewing from several angles and adjusting to keep it visually true.

The short rehearsal periods mean having to force the issue of training. The easiest aid in this is applying the KISS principle – Keep It Simple, Stupid. The most fabulous choreography in the world will look stilted and fake if there isn’t sufficient time to rehearse it. Also, brilliant choreography will not necessarily make a fight. The object of the fight is to physically dramatize the conflict and if we lose sight of the conflict, we lose the story. Simplicity is key.

Cross gender casting creates another problem. Pigeon Creek not only casts men in female roles, but women in male roles. While I have nothing against female actor/combatants – I know several who can kick my butt – many female actors are not involved in martial or sporting activities as much as their male counterparts, so they might be unprepared for the movements that they are going to be asked to make. This translates into a longer learning curve, so keeping the movements simple gives them time to learn and embody this new movement method

And then there is the design concept. Traditionally, the fight arranger works with swords, knives and guns. The weapons are designed to balance and flow, and have smooth edges. The steampunk concept has forced me to design weapons that fit into that style. Regular weapons would not have looked “right” and taken our audience out of the world of the story. The new weapons I have created for the play function similarly to regular weapons, but not always, so adjustments are continually made to the techniques of wielding them so that they look natural.

Lastly, this production is ensemble directed. That means there is no one decision-making authority. While this is very freeing for actors, who can develop their characters as they see fit, as the fight arranger I do not necessarily know what choices they have made. So I can design a fight, but if it flies in the face of a character’s trait as the actor has developed it, the movements will not ring true. So I must be flexible in my approach, and ask questions of my actors to be sure that the fight I am giving them tells the story in the character they have developed. A couple times in the process, an actor has come to me and asked if a change can be made in order to fit with the character they are attempting to portray. If I refuse, I become a totalitarian tyrant who is placing his own work above the good of the whole project. In ensemble direction, even someone in a directoral role must also be willing to take direction. In the end, it is the actors, and not my work, that must shine. We all work toward the good of the whole.
So, keeping flexible, keeping it simple, and being a part of the solution are the keys to functioning in this slightly unusual set of parameters. And that in itself is a learning and growing experience.

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